Interested in saltwater fly-fishing? If so you're in a good spot. I have been in love with fly-fishing for over forty years now and a good percent of that time I spent on the New England coast pursuing striped bass, bluefish, Atlantic bonito and little tunny. Frankly I wouldn't trade those years for anything on earth.
Every form of angling has its annoying little gremlins. What do I mean by that? Well I’m referring to pieces of equipment that too often seem to go haywire. For the spin fishermen, it could be a bail that refuses to operate correctly; it doesn’t stay open or refuses to close. For the plug casters, it has to be the spool overrun- the classic bird’s nest. Yikes, I hate those things. And for the fly angler I would say it’s a fly line that constantly tangles. Ever happen to you? There you are, the fishing has been slow for hours and suddenly the fish erupt all over the top. You grab your rod and fire off a cast only to have the line come off the deck, twist into a ball, and then jam in the guides. Makes you want to scream.
So what causes fly lines to twist and tangle? I think there are many contributing factors. A dirty or cracked fly line is a ticket to trouble - no question. So is a fly line that has been stored for a long period in a tight coil. Ever see someone yank yards of fly line off a reel in a rapid-fire manner? That will do it too. As will chucking large flies that tend to spin during the cast.
Now those things can be brought under control, but unfortunately this business of twisting fly lines has a more complicated side. In fact I believe the very act of casting can be at the root of the problem. Let me explain. Year ago you didn’t see fly lines tangle very often, and for the simple reason that anglers were using slower action rods and fly lines without high tech coatings. That’s not true today. Fast action rods and super slick fly lines are the norm. And that translates into extremely high line speed, which in turn allows anglers to shoot a lot of line during the cast. Great! But as that line rockets through the guides, I believe it has a tendency to spin as well. And that rotation produces twists.
Am I suggesting you avoid modern equipment? Hardly. I love the newer rods and fly lines; glad to have them. But I also think you have to play more attention to your fly line that you ever did before. And to that end I have some suggestions for you.
§ Periodically wash your fly line in warm water with a small drop of mild detergent. Be sure to rinse the line clean. Don’t leave any soap residue behind.
§ Treat your fly line with a fly line dressing. There are several on the market and they are relatively cheap. Armor All has worked for me. It cleans the line and lubes it too, but it evaporates quickly.
§ Do not store your fly line on the reel for long periods of time (months), or in direct sunlight.
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§ Stretch your fly line regularly. I like to do the entire line in one shot, but most anglers do it section by section. You can do sections either between your hands or by slipping the line under your foot and pulling up on both sides as Lefty advocates.
§ Here’s another method. Take the fly line off the reel. Start at the rear of line, and slowly pull it thru your fingers, working any twists forward and eventually off the front end of the line. Time consuming but effective.
§ Some anglers say you can cut off the fly and trail the line behind the boat as you move to a new spot. Doesn’t work for me, but may work for you.
§ Best of all, try stretching the line while hooked to a fish! It works.
§ Here’s a tip that really can save your a lot of grief. If during the day you reach a point when notice that your fly line is starting to twist, stop casting. Stretch the line and then make a concerted effort to use less force during your forward casting stroke. This reduces line speed and thereby reduces tangles. It works; believe me.
§ A dirty fly line tangles much faster. If possible, clean the line in the field as needed. Repair or replace a cracked line as soon as you can.
§ A dirty stripping basket transfers dirt to your fly line. So rinse out your stripping basket occasionally! And rinse down the deck too.
§ Never walk, wade, or run with loose line in your stripping basket. The shuffling motion tends to tangle the line.
§ A little water in your stripping basket is fine, just enough to wet the line. But anything more than say a ¼ inch is going to cause problems. Remove it.
§ Walking on fly line often produces a bad twist.
§ If a knot develops in your fly line, remove it with care. Sharp objects, even a fingernail, can tear the line's coating.
§ Consider using some type of line control device inside your stripping basket such as mono-loops. A plastic insert kit is also available.
§ Some flies, particularly poppers, spin excessively during the cast and thereby twist the line. A swivel in the leader may help.
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